Why Does Probate Take so Long?

Mention estate planning to anyone and most likely they will associate it with avoiding probate. Probate is the legal process of ‘settling’ the estate of a deceased person, and it can take months, even years, for more complex estates. In Colorado, the average estate spends 9-24 months in probate. There are actually three different types of probate proceedings in Colorado:

  • A small estate proceeding for estates valued at under $50,000 that have no real property,
  • An informal proceeding for uncontested estates, and
  • A formal proceeding for contested estates and those with invalid or questionable wills.

So why would this process take a year or more? There are several tasks that take place during probate, and some of them require waiting times, legal notifications and property inventories. For example, in a typical probate proceeding, the following will take place:

  • Opening a bank account for the estate so bills can be paid;
  • Identifying the deceased’s creditors, locating them and notifying them of the death;
  • Identifying heirs and beneficiaries, locating them and notifying them of the death;
  • Identifying and inventorying the property that was owned by the deceased;
  • Filing a final tax return for the estate and paying any estate taxes that may be owed;
  • Paying off creditors;
  • Distributing property to heirs according to the state law if there was no will or beneficiaries that are named within a will.

As you can see, these tasks will not only take time, but they are extremely detail oriented. There are a number of documents that must be filed with the probate court, many of which relate to the above tasks. The process is not horrible, but you must be patient. A probate attorney can help you through this process, as well as help you put together an estate plan that will allow your property to avoid probate if you would prefer.